Women's club rugby team on its way to Final Four
The women's rugby team has had success this season and is on the verge of capturing its first national title in club program history. The Flying Squirrels are just two wins away. They begin their journey on May 3 against Washington State in the Final Four of the 2013 Women's Collegiate Division II National Championship Tournament. Nick Fischetti, The Spectrum
There is a row of 10 players holding rucking pads - blocking shields - ready to absorb a hit. Coach shouts "Fire" and 10 other players rush toward the bags.
After the drill ends, the players hustle back to their positions for another round.
"Fire" reverberates around the field, and the players attack the pads once again.
These are the sights and sounds of a women's rugby practice at Buffalo. The voice belongs to head coach Kristen Huber, who has deep roots in the rugby community of Western New York as the vice president of women's college rugby in the New York State Rugby Conference.
Her intensity and enthusiasm is engrained in the practice, and her leadership creates a camaraderie that is contagious.
The team is on the verge of its first National Championship in club history. Huber, whose nickname is "Red," is a large reason for the team's transformation.
"She knows so much about rugby," said Claire Fritz, a senior health and human services major and forward on the team. "Not just about how to run a team, but also how to play. She's been the main catalyst in getting us pumped."
After wins against American International and Lock Haven, UB's Flying Squirrels (10-0) have earned their first appearance in the USA Rugby Final Four.
In the past eight years, the Flying Squirrels have captured three Division I New York State Championships. The Squirrels moved to Division II in 2012 and claimed a Division II Empire State Championship in the fall.
The team finished undefeated in conference play in the fall season, which concluded Oct. 27. Buffalo shut out six of its nine opponents, outscoring them 368-35 in the fall, qualifying the Squirrels for the 2013 Women's Collegiate Division II National Championship in the spring.
USA Rugby decided to hold this year's playoffs in the spring. The layover could have hindered the Squirrels' momentum, but they claim it has not.
"We had a really nice spring season last year and everybody was excited for the fall," Huber said. "You could tell right from the first time we had practice, from the end of August into the fall, the energy was really high. The girls really wanted to work hard."
The Squirrels opened the tournament with a 44-17 win against Stone Hill University April 6, followed the next week by a 19-10 win against American International and a convincing 49-0 win over Lock Haven in the national playoffs.
The wins set them up for the first Final Four appearance in the program's history.
They are two wins from becoming national champions. The excitement is hard for the athletes to contain.
"I have never been more stoked about anything in my life," Fritz said. "I've been waiting four years for this and I have never been more excited to go, especially with this group of girls. We are so dedicated to each other and dedicated to the team, and we have the best teamwork, the best heart out of any team in the country, and we deserve to win."
The Flying Squirrels will head out to Stanford, Calif., for their semifinal matchup against Washington State May 3.
The game is slated for 10 a.m.
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